I returned from Germany and Switzerland two months ago. I was planning on writing several posts about my wonderful trip but didn't. My April-May trip was wonderful. I savored every minute and criss-crossed Germany on the train by myself visiting places and friends. I decided to write a post on how to navigate the German trains because some people have ask me to do so . Hopefully this post will unravel some the mysteries of German Railroad travel.
ICE means Intercity Express. It is the fastest train of the GermanRail system and provides high-speed connections between metropolitan areas. They usually run every hour and have a dining car and a bistro for food and drinks. However, I would recommend taking your own food and drinks. Ok, maybe the lentil soup is fine and so is the potato salad with a hot dog. Most of the trains have WiFi.
The dining car in the ICE train divides first class from second class. It is called Bordrestaurant. Some people stay in the dining car for the duration of their trip and order a drink or something to eat.
You can order food and drinks in first class. Of course it's expensive and that is why I often bring my own lunch which is totally ok. Larger rail stations have several food courts , a book and magazine store, and an information center where most of the agents speak English and can help you with your ticket and other questions you have.
Most of the time I take the ICE but sometimes I take the IC/EC ( InterCity/EuroCity). They are slightly slower than the ICE and are usually older trains. I have never taken an overnight train with sleeping accommodations. I often take the Regional Express (RE) or RB (ReginalBahn) that connect smaller towns.
Each railway station is different and it takes some time to navigate your way to the train. Most rail stations have escalators and elevators but occassinally you have to carry your own suitcases down some stairs. I always have to negotiate stairs in Hamburg which is my least favorite railway station.
Once you arrive in the station look for an electronic display for the departure of trains. This display will tell you from which track your train is leaving and if it is on time. You will also find the information posted on boards in the railway station. These boards will show you the cities at which the train stops. White boards show the arrivals and yellow boards show the departures. Each train is numbered . Compare the number on your ticket with the number on the board to get the right one.
You made it to the right track, called a Gleis in German. This was my train leaving at 12:14 pm to Interlaken Ost (East). I was getting out in Göttingen which is not on the board . You see the A B C D E F G and the knife and the fork. The knife and fork indicate the dining car. The 1 and 2 indicate first and second class. The next train following my train was an IC going to Amsterdam and the one after that was a regional train going to a small town nearby.
At the track where your train is leaving you will find a board like the one below. It has your train number and the location of your car if you made seat reservations. Even if you didn't make seat reservations I recommend deciding where you want to enter the train. The last thing you want to do is to slog your luggage through a train. Not good, believe me. On the blue board an announcement was made indicating the train cars were in a different order than on the yellow board. If you ever are not sure don't hesitate to ask other train passagers or a conductor.
Here you can see how long some of the trains are and why you want to be in the right section. In this case it is G. The trains will only stop for a few minutes and the doors close automatically. I know of an American family that lost their father because he wanted to get something outside the train. They eventually reunited but it ended up to be a stressful day.
The ICE has a little booklet called "Ihr Reiseplan" a travel itinerary that shows when your train arrives at your destination and connecting trains at the different stations.
Whenever I plan my trip to Germany I decide on what to buy for a train ticket. If I know exactly what I am doing and where I am going I buy tickets ahead a time with the Deutsche Bahn. This is the least expensive way. The Deutsche Bahn has a good English website. I also have the app on my phone. When you buy tickets you have to use the train you buy the ticket for, changing times and trains can be expensive.
These days I prefer to buy a German Rail Pass for a set number of days. You can buy this pass before you travel or at some stations like the one at the Frankfurt Airport. I always bought mine ahead of time. When you arrive in Germany you have to validate it at the station with your passport. The pass is good for four weeks and you choose which days you want to travel. For each day you travel you can go anywhere in Germany. I buy a first class pass because there are usually more seats available, second class is fine but it can be very crowded and if you don’t have a seat reservation you are liable to stand for hours. I seldom buy a seat reservation in first class, although I recommend it for long trips. There have been times over the years where I have had to stand .
My favorite train ride was in an old Hungarian train going from Berlin to Prague , the train continued to Budapest. It was in the winter and the countryside was beautiful and remote .
I hope I didn't bore you with this post, but I have helped so many American travelers that I hope this will be helpful to some. Let me know if you have any more questions that I can answer for you. Gute Reise my friends.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. My two passions are cooking and traveling. Traveling exposes me to a wide variety of food and experiences. I walk around cities looking for markets, restaurants, bakeries, shops, you name it, and if it is related to food you will find me there, tasting, smelling, talking to vendors, and having a great time.